Central American Police Training:

State and USAID Should Ensure Human Rights Content Is Included as Appropriate, and State Should Improve Data

GAO-18-618: Published: Sep 5, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 5, 2018.

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Jennifer Grover
(202) 512-7141
GroverJ@gao.gov

 

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The Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense train police forces in some Central American countries where corruption and human rights abuses have traditionally plagued civilian police forces.

We found that the agencies' training programs are intended to professionalize police and highlight the importance of police respect for human rights. However, State and USAID have few controls in place to ensure that the delivered training includes human rights information.

We made recommendations to address this and other issues we found in our review of Central American police training.

Police in Honduras Receiving Training from U.S. Department of Defense Trainers

Photograph of a police training session showing officers physically restraining other officers.

Photograph of a police training session showing officers physically restraining other officers.

Multimedia:

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Jennifer Grover
(202) 512-7141
GroverJ@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Agencies have established objectives and delivered training to professionalize police in Central America's Northern Triangle but have not consistently done so to promote police respect for human rights. U.S. strategies include objectives to professionalize police, and the Departments of State (State) and Defense (DOD) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have delivered related training (see figure). These strategies also highlight the importance of police respect for human rights, but agencies have few objectives or other control mechanisms to ensure police receive related training. For instance, none of the 14 State projects and 2 of the 8 USAID projects that GAO reviewed had such objectives. Officials said this is because objectives were designed to be broader in focus. DOD also does not have objectives but has other control mechanisms to ensure its training includes human rights content. Federal standards for internal control call for managers to establish control mechanisms consistent with priorities. Without them, it may be difficult for State and USAID to ensure that training supports agencies' goals to promote police respect for human rights.

Police in Honduras Receiving Training from U.S. Department of Defense Trainers

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DOD, State, and USAID collect information on police training, but State lacks readily available, reliable data on the number of police trained—a key indicator in the U.S. Strategy for Central America. State's data are not readily available because, according to officials, the process to track training is decentralized and data are not consolidated. Further, GAO found State's fiscal year 2017 police training data to be unreliable because, among other reasons, the data did not include training delivered by some implementers. Officials noted that State did not have sufficient internal control mechanisms and staff in place to collect data as it expanded police training in the Northern Triangle. Without such data, State cannot accurately assess its efforts in Central America.

Why GAO Did This Study

Several U.S. agencies train police in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where corruption and human rights abuses have traditionally plagued civilian police forces. State, the primary agency responsible for foreign police assistance, allocated about $37 million to train police in these countries from appropriations for fiscal years 2014 through 2017. Although it is not a focus of their efforts, DOD and USAID also train police in the Northern Triangle.

Senate Report 115-125 includes a provision for GAO to report on various aspects of U.S. police training efforts in the Northern Triangle. In this report, GAO examines, among other objectives, the extent to which U.S. agencies have (1) established objectives for and delivered training to professionalize police, including promoting respect for human rights, and (2) collected data related to police training indicators. GAO analyzed agency data and project documents, including for 22 State and USAID-funded projects implemented during fiscal years 2014 through 2017 that agencies identified as including assistance for police. GAO also conducted fieldwork in El Salvador and interviewed agency officials in Honduras; Guatemala; and Washington, D.C., who oversee and conduct police training.

What GAO Recommends

To improve oversight of police training in the Northern Triangle, State and USAID should design control mechanisms to ensure human rights content is included as appropriate, and State should improve police training data. State and USAID concurred.

For more information, contact Jennifer Grover at (202) 512-7141 or GroverJ@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation in its official comment letter included as an appendix in GAO-18-618, published in September 2018. State noted that it intends to amend templates for relevant implementing documents to address human rights as appropriate. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) designs internal control mechanisms to ensure human rights content is included in INL-funded police training for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as appropriate. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with this recommendation in its official comment letter included as an appendix in GAO-18-618, published in September 2018. State commented that, partly in response to our report, it is developing specific indicators related to INL-funded police training. As we confirm additional actions taken by State in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) develops and implements a process to collect more reliable data on the number of police trained through INL-funded efforts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: USAID concurred with this recommendation in its official comment letter included as an appendix in GAO-18-618, published in September 2018, and detailed policy revisions it intends to implement in response. As of September 2018, we are following up with USAID about evidence the agency provided to GAO related to changes made in response to our recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of USAID should design internal control mechanisms to ensure human rights content continues to be included in USAID-funded police training for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as appropriate. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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